In the fight against Covid, canine medical detection dogs could be a worthy tool – but it's one the Ministry of Health does not intend to use.
Pauline Blomfield has trained dogs for more than 40 years – she's the owner of K9 Medical Detection NZ and has several medical detection dogs which can detect cancer in a urine sample with 98.4 to 100 per cent accuracy.
Blomfield told the Herald these dogs could be retrained to detect Covid, but without a Government directive there's nothing she can do.
"We are just sitting here waiting to go."
Studies have shown that dogs can sniff out the specific odour of Covid-19 correctly with more than 90 per cent accuracy, meaning they could be a good tool for Aotearoa's borders, at large-scale events or even private businesses.
"What we've said all along is the olfactory system of a canine is a diagnostic system which is highly undervalued," Blomfield told the Herald.
"They can be used as a microscopic analysis in a variety of environments."
Comparatively, a concern of the efficacy of rapid antigen tests (RATs) has been raised in recent weeks with one study finding RATs to have a "considerably lower" accuracy rate than the manufacturer's data.
The study took 1465 patients at a Swedish testing facility and found overall the sensitivity of the RATs was 65.3 per cent for symptomatic patients and 44 per cent in asymptomatic individuals.
It concluded that "widespread application...might lead to a considerable number of individuals falsely classified as SARS-CoV-2 negative".
Despite the high accuracy of canines, the Ministry of Health told the Herald it is not considering the use of dogs in Aotearoa's Covid-19 response.
"The Ministry of Health is closely monitoring international evidence on a wide range of testing and surveillance strategies," a spokesperson for the Ministry said.
"At this stage, the Ministry is not considering using sniffer dogs to detect Covid-19. It's also important to note that in New Zealand's context of low Covid-19 prevalence, we don't always adopt strategies or technologies that are used in other countries. "
Although the Ministry of Health is not considering canines, Blomfield says a number of private businesses have approached her about using dogs to detect Covid-19, but without funding there's nothing she can do.
"It's not just about quickly training a dog, we have to go through all these stages...we have training facilities, specialist equipment, sterilisers. We have all the systems for cancer and that could be easily transferred through to a virus but that takes time."